Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance
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Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance

Gregory Blair

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Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance

Gregory Blair

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This book explores a type of wandering referred to as "errant bodies." This form of wandering is intentional, without specific destination, and operates as a means of resistance against hegemonic forms of power and cultural prescriptions. Beginning with an examination of the character and particulars of being an errant body, the book investigates historical errant bodies including Ancient Greek Cynics, Punks, Baudelaire, Situationists, Earhart, Kerouac, Fuller, Baudrillard, Hamish Fulton, and Keri Smith. Being an errant body means stepping to the side of dominant culture, creating a potential means of political resistance in the technologically driven twenty-first century.

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© The Author(s) 2019
Gregory BlairErrant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance
Begin Abstract

1. Errant Bodies

Gregory Blair1
Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD, USA
Gregory Blair


This chapter begins by profiling the various types of wandering one might undertake. It then goes on to serve as an introduction to a form of wandering that can be described as “errant bodies,” in which the meandering is intentional, without specific destination, and operates for the errant body as a means of resistance or struggle against hegemonic forms of power or cultural prescription. The origins and genealogy of errant bodies draw from a wide range of disparate sources that include pilgrimages, exploration, vagabonds, nomads, hoboes, tramps, peripatetics, travel writing, Greek Cynicism, punk, geography, biopolitics, and Michel Foucault. This analysis is also built upon the theories of mobility and wanderlust posited by Tim Cresswell, Rebecca Solnit, John Urry, Janet Wolff, Gilles Deleuze, and Frédéric Gros.


End Abstract
There is a common idiom, or at least what has become a prosaic phrase, that claims: “Not all who wander are lost.” Originally written as a line of poetry by J.R.R. Tolkien, the pithy bon mot suggests that many wanderers have an objective; they travel for a reason, trying to find someone or something (perhaps unknown) to satisfy an unfulfilled inclination. Many people have traveled in this manner, seeking out a new place that will bring excitement, insight, inspiration, or meaning. Much of the impetus for tourist travel is to experience something unfamiliar. With this type of wandering, there is an end goal or final realization, an arrival and a sense of completion, a moment when it is “time to go home.” These wanderers are not lost, according to Tolkien, but actually know what they are doing; they have purpose—their meandering is intentional and has a certain aspiration.
By positing the purposeful wanderer, Tolkien’s poetic declaration also suggests another type of wanderer, one in which the nomad is lost or traveling without aim. This type of ambling is also fairly common. Some will meander for exercise, while others drift to escape, relax, rejuvenate, or think, and “clear their head.” Many people feel that they do their best thinking while in motion—whether by walking, driving, or other means of locomotion. Frédéric Gros and Rebecca Solnit have nicely articulated the relationship between the activities of walking and thinking for several historical thinkers.1 Walking or moving about can sometimes be a tonic, an antidote, a spark or jolt for the imagination. One of my former professors used to tell us: “When you get stuck and can’t think of a good idea: go for a walk!” This second type of wandering often means not caring too much about where you are going, but is typically carried out through short excursions. Perhaps the expedition lasts a few minutes or is much longer spanning several days. Either way, the focus of this type of wandering is the activity itself, the meditative journey, and not the final destination.
I once attempted to be this type of wanderer. In my early twenties, my girlfriend and I hopped into my car, with more enthusiasm than money, and hit the open road for about a month. This excursion was not as reckless or spontaneous as it might sound. We had scrimped, saved, and planned for several months. We had no real plans of where to go but decided to start by heading west over the Rockies to visit a friend and eventually traveled down the west coast of Canada and the USA. One of my strongest and fondest memories of our journey was a particular feeling that sank in after about a week on the road. I started to get the impression that we had fallen off the grid. No one really knew where we were (this odyssey preceded cell phones), and we sort of floated under the radar of the typical daily habits and activities of those that we saw around us. It was liberating to wake each morning and start driving before we even knew where we were going—this mobility gave us a sense that we could almost do anything we wanted (Fig. 1.1). I think Baudrillard must have had a similar experience when he was drifting around the deserts of the American Southwest. Maybe this explains why he kept going back, time and again, to be swallowed up and lost in the desert expanse. As for our journey, the liberating ability to fly under the radar was fleeting and our expedition had to come to an end when our money began to run low. It was time for us to return home, back to our family, friends, jobs, and well-worn routines. We once again found ourselves on the familiar streets of our hometown, soon to be settled back into our more stationary existence.
Fig. 1.1
An image of me and my faithful Ford Tempo outside of Astoria along the Oregon coast taken during the wandering odyssey of 1999
It may seem that most wanderers would likely fit into one of the two types described above—those traveling to/for something, and those just traveling—but I want to propose another, a third possible type of wandering that is distinct from the other two. In order to develop this differentiation, I will call this alternative form errant bodies. Choosing this particular nomenclature has three specific and critical functions. First, I want to take a moment to look at the etymology of the word “errant.” Sometimes digging into the origins of a word—a phenomenological unearthing that I learned from Heidegger—can be rewarding and revelatory in understanding its full meaning. This activity can be like researching your own ancestry—not only does it provide a greater sense of connectedness with the unfolding of history through other people’s lives, but it also allows for a better understanding of self by giving singular attention to the pieces that form the collective of one’s identity. The same can occur with individual words, as we investigate how they are built up from their roots and how their meaning has been recorded and shifted over time. You can choose your friends, but not your etymology, I suppose.
The word “errant” has its origins in the Latin word iter, meaning “journey” or “way.” Iter is from the root of ire, meaning “to go.” The implications of its early inception seem to emphasize movement. The meaning of “errant” is built on a semantic foundation of flux (to go), with more emphasis on action than destination. This is a key feature to what I want to define as a type of wandering that is intentional, without specific destination, and operates for the errant body as a means of resistance or struggle against hegemonic forms of power or cultural prescription. In this form, being an errant body is a praxis of cultural subversion—a rebellion in action—a mode of being which challenges codified conventions of behavior. Being an errant body is a political ontology of being out-of-place. “Out-of-place” implies a placelessness or lack of fixity within a particular place. Errant bodies have become, in their own way, mobile subjects in order to transgress some imposition of dominant culture. Being an errant body can be achieved through various means. In contrast with the eminence that Gros gives to walking, becoming an errant body can be achieved by walking, driving, riding, or any other mode of mobility—as long as movement and flux are the central tenets. For errant bodies, movement becomes the constant staple of existence.
The second benefit of the phrase “errant bodies” is that it also underscores the corporeality and materiality of this strategy of resistance. Errant bodies are actual physical and material bodies moving through space and over topography. This movement does not create a disengagement from place or the world, but rather reconfigures its relation to it. In the opening of her book Holdfast, Kathleen Dean Moore provides an epigraph using Rachel Carson’s description of a holdfast in a nature: “A rootlike structure, as of algae and other simple plants, for attachment to the substrate.”2 For Dean Moore, the holdfast is a metaphor for our connection to people and places—a sort of rootedness. However, as she ruminates about her daughter’s future, she also reveals that a holdfast does not have to be something that is fixed. Instead, it can be a “way to be joyously connected to the land even while she is on the move.”3 And she continues: “It’s a kind of rootedness that has to do with rejoicing in the horizon.”4 For errant bodies, movement is the root of their being—an uprooted rootedness. Being out-of-place becomes the place and site of their existence. The corporeality and materiality of errant bodies are manifested through transgression—the literal crossing of physical boundaries. The embodied transgression is also a breach of the reified power and crystallized cultural impositions that those boundaries symbolize and represent. Being an errant body means practicing an embodied philosophy because they forge a praxis of disruption in a material and physical enactment—performing the principles of their philosophy through the actions of their lives. Heidegger once described this performance of a philosophy as a “way of behaving.”5
Last, I have employed the term errant bodies in an attempt to avoid using exclusionary or gendered metaphors. Janet Wolff rightly points out that historical travel metaphors and language are highly gendered. As Wolff clarifies, bringing these metaphors into critical discourse means that they come “encumbered with a range of gender connotations”6 and the “use of that vocabulary produces androcentric [or Westerncentric] tendencies in theory.”7 The term errant bodies does not sidestep these biases and pitfalls entirely, but it does represent an attempt to be conscious of them. As will be detailed in some of the following chapters, some types of mobility and forms of errant bodies have been historically gender- or culture-specific. “Rambling,” for example, is innately tied to the concept of the “Rambling man.” The gendering of the rambler has been codified over and over again through literature, images, music, and myth. Part of the chapter on rambling will explore this gendering and its predication on exclusionary sexism, while also examining how some instances of rambling fall within the sphere of being errant bodies.
It is certainly true that we do not all have the same access to the “road”—the wall of restrictions for some would-be errant bodies may be too much to overcome and ...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance
APA 6 Citation
Blair, G. (2018). Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance ([edition unavailable]). Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Blair, Gregory. (2018) 2018. Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance. [Edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing.
Harvard Citation
Blair, G. (2018) Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance. [edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Blair, Gregory. Errant Bodies, Mobility, and Political Resistance. [edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.